BOOT CAMP 391 (23/08/05)

Wireless Networking, part 5


The final stages in setting up a small home or office wireless network are to enable file and printer sharing and we’ll round off this series with a few words on using a Wi-Fi enabled laptop with a wireless access point or ‘Hotspot’ plus some basic troubleshooting tips.


Windows XP Home and Professional both use a system called Simple File Sharing (SFS). XP Professional has additional layers of security but we’ll confine ourselves to SFS, which should suit most users. However, be warned that any folders or drives you’ve nominated for sharing will be available to all PCs on the network and under the default settings other users can also permanently delete files, without them going via the Recycle Bin. There are ways to protect files and restrict access and we’ll deal with those in a moment.


To share a folder, sub folder or drive on your main or Server PC right click on it in Windows Explorer and select Sharing and Security. Incidentally do not share an entire disc drive (other than a floppy or CD/DVD-ROM drive) as this could seriously compromise your system’s security. Windows will now ask you if you want to use the Network Setup Wizard. Using the Wizard will enable the Internet Connection Firewall, which will stop Internet users from gaining access to shared folders and drives. Using the Wizard is a good idea on client PCs, which connect to the Internet through a network but on your main or server PC -- the one with the direct Internet connection -- choose the ‘Just enable file sharing’ option. You will now be asked to give the shared folder a name. You can stick with the default but from a security standpoint it’s better to choose a new one.


Once sharing has been enabled on the server PC shared folders and drives will have a small ‘hand’ symbol beneath the icon and will show up in My Network Places and Network Neighbourhood on the client PCs.


If you want to hide a folder or drive from other users of your network add a dollar sign ($) to the end of the name and it won’t appear in a client PC’s Network Neighbourhood or My Network places list. Authorised users can still access hidden folders on a server PC by going to My Computer > Tools > Map Network Drive and the hidden folder will be assigned a drive letter.


To share the printer connected to your main PC go to Start > Printers and Faxes, right click the printer icon, select ‘Share This Printer’ and click OK. On the client PCs simply go to Printers and Faxes and click ‘Add a Printer’ and use the Wizard to locate and install the shared network printer.


There are now thousands of Wi-Fi Hotspots in and around airport lounges, hotels, cafes and other public places. There are basically two types, those that are free, and access points that require a subscription or fee in order to use them. Instructions for using paid-for Hotspot will normally be supplied when you sign up. To use a free Hotspot all you have to do is open your Wi-Fi configuration utility, switch off WEP encryption and use the Site Survey or Monitor facility to identify the Hotspot signal. The network name or SSID should be displayed, select it and click the Connect button. (If it is not shown the site owner will supply you with the Network identity, which you enter into the Network Name or SSID box). Once connected open your browser and you should either see your home page, or the site owner’s page, which may contain further instructions.


Windows XP has greatly simplified the installation and configuration of wireless networks but inevitably things can and do go wrong so here’s a few basic checks to try if you cannot get yours to work. Start with the obvious and make sure that everything is switched on and running, all of the cables and adaptors are in place and there is adequate signal strength (see also this week’s Top Tip). It’s always worth trying a complete system re-boot. With everything switched off power up the router, then the server PC followed by the client PCs.


If the server PC and the Wi-Fi router are not communicating nothing will work. If you cannot access the router’s configuration menu through a browser windows make sure you are using the correct sort of LAN cable  (it should be a ‘straight’ or ‘direct’ type, not a ‘crossover’ cable), and check that the PC’s LAN port is enabled and working. Try temporarily disabling your PC and router’s Firewall. If the client PC cannot connect to the router ensure that the Wi-Fi adaptor is properly installed. Switch off WEP encryption or re-enter the code. 


There is plenty of help on the web and the best place to start is usually the manufacturer’s web sites for the components you suspect may be causing the problem. Ensure that you have the latest drivers installed and have a look through the relevant Support and FAQ sections for advice. Other useful web resources for Wi-Fi network problems include:







Next Week -- Ten Top Tips





Two quite different (though visually identical) types of LAN cable



Local Area Network -- a computer network (WLAN - wireless local area network)



Service Set Identifier -- name used to identify a computer network



If you have a Wi-Fi enabled laptop and you want to make use of public Hotspots then a little gadget called a Wi-Fi ‘Sniffer’, ‘Seeker’ or ‘Finder’ could come in very handy. Most Sniffers have a LED bargraph display that shows when you are within range of a wireless network; the more lights that are lit the stronger the signal. More sophisticated models also have an LCD display that shows the Hotspot’s ID and whether or not it is encrypted. Basic key ring sized sniffers cost from around £25 and are readily available from on-line retailers and PC suppliers. 

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